Quitting ‘The Walking Dead,’ and the Joy of Leaving Bad TV Behind

     December 13, 2016


Outside of gaming, I think Game of Thrones is where I first heard the term “Rage Quit” used. It was in response to the gut-wrenching events of The Red Wedding, where fans couldn’t take the trauma of the episode. Soon reaction videos of fans upset at the bloodthirsty ending were everywhere, with many denouncing the show for slaying beloved characters in such brutal fashion. Viewers vowed to quit and never return, and while a few probably did, the majority recovered in time for the finale and are still with the show. The idea that a series could do something so infuriating it made you quit seemed ridiculous to me, considering it’s only a show, and you can choose to stop anytime.

I thought that, at least, until the events of of “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be,” the opening episode of The Walking Dead’s seventh season. The show was always something I had a bit of a love/hate relationship with. It was never on par with shows like Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad, but it supplied a pulpy escapist fantasy with a great cast and icky gore. The quality could vary wildly season to season, but I always came back.


Image via AMC

It was in Season 6, though, when the in-built problems with the show’s formula really crystallized for me. The Walking Dead had taken to using ruthless amounts of padding, delaying moving the plot forward due to an inherent lack of story. The season split characters up so they could get individual episodes, and while a couple of these solo adventures could be interesting, it seemed clear that the show’s intent was to keep the wheels spinning until the next major plot development came in the finale.

This recipe was a recurring problem with Season 6, as was the constant cheap manipulation. The best example would be Glenn’s “death,” where he and a fellow survivor fall into a crowd of zombies in the third episode and appear to be torn apart. Actor Steven Yeun’s name was removed from the credits, but in the press his fate was kept ambiguous. Within a few weeks it was revealed it was a ploy, with Glenn having improbably escaped. The whole plotline was ill-advised, and rightfully received a backlash.

While a show teasing out a cliffhanger is nothing new, there was something incredibly cynical about the way The Walking Dead employed those teases last season. If a reveal could be delayed or a plotline stretched beyond its natural lifespan it would be. That came to a literal head with the finale, where Negan – who’s arrival had been tediously delayed the whole season – selected his unlucky victim and displayed their death from a specific POV angle to conceal their identity.

So after eight episodes building up to Negan killing someone, they postponed the reveal for the sole purpose of ratings. Again, fan backlash was fierce, as it was rightfully felt the showrunners had no respect for the audience. The Season 7 opener itself has become infamous, both for the graphic gore and being soul-grindingly miserable. When it was over, I wasn’t angry or tempted to “rage quit” like many were, I was just numb. Having sat through a solid hour of watching the characters go through mental and physical torture, I realized wallowing in violence was all the show had left to offer.


Image via AMC

Following the desolation of that opening, I didn’t have the will to sit through five or six episodes of filler, hanging around with miserable characters in a colorless world going through recycled plots. So I stopped cold. Social media being what it is, I got the bullet points of what was happening after that, and it sounded like the show was playing out how I expected; episodes split between characters, padding, Negan being a bully, etc.

I also realized I didn’t miss it. While The Walking Dead was always dark there was an element of fun too, of projecting yourself into it and imagining what it would be like to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. Over the last couple of seasons, it’s marched ever closer to pure nihilism, and there’s enough of that in the world without tuning in for a weekly dose.

I used to think if I’d stuck with a show for years I had to see it through, no matter how weak later seasons became. Now I don’t have the patience for that, and if I’m not enjoying something I’m not hanging around for years in the vain hope it improves. I had given up on shows I didn’t click with before, namely The Strain and – controversially – Lost because after a couple of seasons I just wasn’t engaged enough to keep watching.

So instead of The Walking Dead, I got my horror fix from Ash vs Evil Dead, which had all the gore you could want in addition to a great cast and a healthy dose of fun. Plus getting to see Bruce Campbell do what he does best on a weekly basis is something you don’t pass up. It’s a show where you feel good after watching, and not hopelessly bummed.

Then there was Westworld, a series where the slow burn approach wasn’t used to pad things out, but to reel you in. The fantastic casting and mystery-box storytelling was incredibly absorbing, and it felt like it was building towards something meaningful instead of walking in circles before climaxing with a shocking death. Tonally Ash vs Evil Dead and Westworld couldn’t be further apart, but they complemented each other surprisingly well.


Image via AMC

During this time I wasn’t even curious about what was happening back on The Walking Dead, and based on the sinking ratings it seemed I wasn’t alone. Once I realised the midseason finale was approaching I decided to give it one last try, both to see if it would confirm expectations, or to see if I enjoyed it.

Sad to say, “Hearts Still Beating” is pretty much what I expected. Despite missing six episodes, it didn’t take long to fill in the blanks, and the show was exactly where I thought it would be at that stage. Daryl escaped, Carol and Morgan were tiresomely sticking to their no-kill rule – which is less about character development than it is about giving them a subplot – and Negan tormented Alexandria by being a swaggering douche.

The moment Spencer – who somehow survived up to now – began sweet talking Negan it was obvious how things would end, and the one surprise was that Lucille wasn’t involved. Again the show came down to death and cruelty to generate tension, but in the grand scheme, Negan shaving his beard had more effect than losing Spencer or Olivia.

In terms of pushing the story forward, it positions the group to fight back, so you can bet the second half will be Rick convincing the other communities to rise against The Saviours; this should last around seven episodes before the “explosive” finale. In that time Carol will also be cured of her murder allergy, and the show will no doubt make good on Negan chopping someone’s hand off — maybe that will be the next cliffhanger.

It’s bittersweet to walk away after investing six years, but ultimately it’s been freeing. The Walking Dead never lived up to the potential of the pilot, drunkenly veered between greatness and dreariness all the way. It’s now stuck in a creative drought it will hopefully emerge from, but for me, I’ve found walking away more rewarding. Instead of a “Rage Quit” it’s more of a “Joy Quit”; choosing to accept a show isn’t clicking for me anymore, and instead of slogging through, deciding to seek something fresh instead.

In hindsight, it was remarkably easy, but for many fans, it isn’t that simple. They’ve invested years in something and want to see it through, even if they don’t technically enjoy it anymore. I used to feel that way too, but I can recommend the alternative. There are other great TV series, movies, games, and books that will gladly steal your free time, so if you’re feeling weary of your former favorite show, maybe try something else for a little while instead.

Or if you can’t turn away completely, just stick with the opening and closing episodes from now on; it’s the only time things seem to happen anyway.